by Heather Zimmerman
Hélène Zahoudanis has always dreamed of owning a farm. In her current business, even though she doesn’t work the land, she contributes a bountiful harvest every week. Through Real Good Greens, the farm box delivery service she co-founded, she ensures that products from about two dozen small Bay Area farms end up on the tables of local consumers.
“When we started I really didn’t mean to be a business, it was just kind of a response back then,” said Zahoudanis, a 2009 Palo Alto high school graduate who has founded Real Good Greens with her husband, Matt Petersen, at the start of the pandemic last year.
Helene Zahoudanis, co-founder of Real Good Greens, runs a farm box at County Line Harvest in Petaluma. Courtesy of Brinkerhoff Photography.
They aimed to help bridge a major disconnect in the food supply that quickly emerged after stay-at-home orders took effect. As consumers encountered empty grocery shelves, small farms faced the opposite problem: lots of crops but no customers to buy them, as many restaurants – their main buyers – had to temporarily close. So, shortly after the lockdown began, Zahoudanis and Petersen launched a service to help connect consumers with small farms looking to sell organic produce that before the pandemic would have been bought by restaurants.
“Their supply chain was totally disrupted and practically overnight they found themselves with freshly harvested food that they had to sell very quickly. Our community was now stuck at home and looking for a better way to do it. ‘grocery store, and our local farmers had an abundance of food, so we just wanted to help bridge that gap and facilitate that connection, ”Zahoudanis said.
In the beginning, they helped spread the word about the real good greens on the neighborhood social networking app Nextdoor, and that’s where it all took off.
Zahoudanis and Petersen may not necessarily have started with the goal of starting a business, but their efforts have grown over the past year to become a real business. Real Good Greens now delivers products and crafts to homes in Marin County, San Francisco, parts of East Bay and Peninsula towns as far south as Los Altos Hills.
Despite Real Good Greens’ current lineup of offerings, the name of the company dates back to its early days. Green vegetables were the main crop on one of the first farms Zahoudanis worked with, County Line Harvest in Petaluma, which grows many varieties of green vegetables for local chefs. On top of that, Zahoudanis identifies as a ‘vegetarian freak, a nut of salad’, and the name celebrates her love for fresh greens.
A farm of Real Good Greens containing fennel, radishes and eggs. Courtesy of Brinkerhoff Photography.
“That’s the crux of it all, finding amazing, quality stuff that tastes the same as you grew and harvested it that morning and getting it to people the same day – that was just the spirit. of the idea, ”she said.
Zahoudanis studied English and Marketing in college – she has a BA in English and Communication from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania – but her family has roots in both food and agriculture. Her father grew up on a farm in Greece and her aunt is chef and writer Donia Bijan, who ran the beloved downtown Palo Alto restaurant The Friend Donia for a decade.
“I grew up going to this restaurant and in the 90s she was a farm-to-table principle, so I saw farms come in and put down nice, fresh produce. It was just ingrained in my DNA. at a very young age, “says Zahoudanis.
She noted that Petersen also grew up in a farming family in Iowa.
The couple live in North Bay and Real Good Greens is based in Mill Valley, where they have a facility to assemble the controls. Zahoudanis said the company works with around 25 farms, mostly based in North Bay, but also a few in Half Moon Bay and Yolo County.
Helene Zahoudanis, co-founder of Real Good Greens, and David Retsky, owner and chief farmer of County Line Harvest, chat in a field while harvesting mustard greens to use in farm boxes, at County Line Harvest in Petaluma . Courtesy of Brinkerhoff Photography.
Farm boxes are the centerpiece of Real Good Greens, but the business differs from a traditional Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm box model in which customers typically subscribe for regular deliveries, purchasing a share of the crops of a farm or group of farms. Zahoudanis, who said she was a regular member of various CSAs, recalled that as a client, she found this model to be difficult to plan and wanted to offer more flexibility.
Customers can choose to place orders weekly on the Real Good Greens website, before midnight Tuesday, with all orders delivered on Thursdays and Fridays.
“Our core product is the seasonal farm box. This is how we can support as many farms as possible by having this kind of surprise box of what is freshly harvested and peak season,” Zahoudanis said.
The Seasonal Organic Farm Box is an organized box of fresh produce that offers 10 to 13 items for $ 45 or a smaller version with five to seven items for $ 35. The selection changes weekly, with items depending on the season.
In addition to its two organized boxes, Real Good Greens sells a variety of fresh produce. Among the items currently available on the website are a half-dish of strawberries, an assortment of stone fruits, a pound of snow peas – and of course, bunches of green vegetables. Buyers can also purchase artisanal products such as bread, eggs, cheese, olive oil, and honey. Those who buy a box can add these and additional products to their orders, but customers don’t actually need to purchase a farm box in order to purchase individual products and groceries. Despite this, Zahoudanis estimates that around 90% of customers buy a farm box and then add additional products.
“We have become more of a full-fledged online farmers market,” she said.
Real Good Greens farm box that includes carrots, strawberries, asparagus and avocados. Courtesy of Brinkerhoff Photography.
Real Good Greens may have been founded at a unique time when long-established supply systems were disrupted, but Zahoudanis does not foresee a full return to the situation before the pandemic. Even with restaurants reopening more to customers, the pandemic has brought changes in the way consumers buy food and in the way farms operate.
“Where many farms sold exclusively to restaurants, they realized the importance of selling directly to consumers and having multiple sales channels. Now that the restaurants are opening we have established this stable relationship and even in times of downturn and uncertainty we have been a very stable customer, ”she said.
In fact, the business is poised to grow a bit further. Zahoudanis said she and Petersen are looking for a warehouse to increase the volume of Real Good Greens and provide the space needed to increase offerings to include local meat and fish. And maybe one day, Zahoudanis said, she hopes the company will have its own storefront.
That’s a big difference from Real Good Greens’ debut just over a year ago as the idea to step in and help fill a void created by the pandemic that wasn’t necessarily intended to be. a company.
“We were kind of playing week after week and seeing how it went, and I think after a few months we realized we had a very loyal following and we were building something really good,” Zahoudanis said.
For more information visit realgoodgreens.com.